Signature Theatre's ultimate Sondheim

Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

Signature Theatre and its artistic director, Eric Schaeffer, have a long history of championing Stephen Sondheim, so it's only fitting that the season's climax is a production of the composer's "Company." The stars could not be in better alignment. Schaeffer is back at the helm after directing the successful transfer of Sondheim's "Follies" from the Kennedy Center to Broadway. The cast is drawn from the theater's favorite regulars, six of them married couples inhabiting the roles of married characters on stage. Bobby, the protagonist, is played by Matthew Scott, whose credits include the Broadway cast album of "Sondheim on Sondheim" and Signature's presentation of "Side by Side by Sondheim" two seasons ago.

"When Eric asked me last October to play Bobby, I thought it would be a little daunting, but we felt lots of good energy coming back from the audience on opening night," Scott said. "Eric has had great success mounting Sondheim works. He said that he had done 'Company' 20 years ago and wanted to do it 'right.' I don't know what he meant by that, but we knew there was something alive, fun and special from day one. Everyone in the cast knew each other and being in scenes with the couples and watching how they interact was especially helpful to me.

"Over the years, Eric has formed a repertory company of actors who love working with each other and he's cultivated an audience that comes back time and again to see those actors. He knows what he wants and he let us discover the play by diving in and finding the correct rhythm and true cadence as we went. There are emotional mixes and music that allow us to put ourselves into the role. We went back to the original 1970 Broadway production recording with Dean Jones and moved the keys of some of the music up to those he used. In this way, the songs became extensions of my speaking voice."

Bobby is a perpetual bachelor trying to figure out his life as he observes the relationships of his married friends. Scott and his wife, actress Kirsten Scott, have been together since meeting at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh a decade ago. Although he cannot identify with some of Bobby's problems, he's done ample research to understand the quirks of a bachelor whose best friends are married couples.

» Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington
» When: Through June 30
» Info: $40 to $80; 703-573-SEAT;

He discovered the lure of theater while attending elementary school in Northvale, N.J. To escape the lunch room, he sneaked into the room of music teacher James Ruck and spent lunch period listening to all the standards. Throughout high school, he studied voice with Ruck, learning how to interpret lyrics and performing together at weddings and other venues. His other mentor was the English and dramatics teacher John Housely. After Scott's father passed away when he was 13, both men took over that role, driving him to college interviews and encouraging him to follow his dreams.

In repayment, Scott has proved himself worthy of their attention. In addition to "Sondheim on Sondheim," his Broadway credits include "Jersey Boys," "A Catered Affair" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." He received a John Barrymore Award as Best Supporting Actor in "The Light in the Piazza" for the Philadelphia Theatre Company, garnered a Kevin Kline Award nomination for his performance in "West Side Story" at the MUNY in St. Louis, and has appeared in numerous musicals at the Paper Mill Playhouse since his college days. During high school, he received three Rising Star awards given to New Jersey students.

"The Signature audience knows Sondheim and this canon of work." Scott said. "They've seen a lot of his musicals here and elsewhere in Washington. There's something about 'Company' that clicks. People come because they know and love the score, and when they hear these songs in context, they will be shocked by how much the songs move the story."

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